(Editor’s note: Mayor David Earney was not available for questioning at the time of this article to ask why the first responders were not included in the raises from the beginning.)
A special city council meeting was called on Thursday, March 5, after it was discovered a 3% raise was given to all city employees and a 5% raise to department heads. All city employees except the police and fire department received a raise by the mayor without the city council’s knowledge.
Stuttgart City Clerk Becky Burgess conducted the meeting in Mayor David Earney’s absence.
“I understand we issued some raises without proper procedures being followed,” said Alderman Norma Strabala
“Who is we,” asked Alderman Joe Alexander.
According to Strabala, the mayor issued out raises inappropriately and in order to get in compliance, she would like to make a motion to rescind the raises that were issued.
“After speaking to the municipal league the raises that were issued today had not been authorized by you all,” said Stuttgart City Attorney Elizabeth Skinner. “You can vote to have them rescind those raises as you vote on an amendment to the budget, raising the salary for each level that it needs to be or handling it in some other method as you see fit.”
Strabala proposed the council rescind the raises that were issued effective immediately but also make a recommendation that all city employees across the board get a 3% raise with the department heads getting a 5% raise with an effective date retroactive on Thursday.
The majority of the fire and police department make a few cents over minimum wage averaging around $10.20 per hour according to SPD Chief of Police Mark Duke from a previous city council meeting when police salaries were discussed.
Currently, the minimum wage in Arkansas is $10 per hour with an expected increase to $11 in 2021. The 3% raise is approximately 30 cents for the majority of the first responders.
A motion was passed to rescind the raises that were given inappropriately. A second motioned was then passed that all city employees across the board receive a 3% raise with the department heads getting a 5% raise with an amendment to the budget.
“What we will be able to do is take care of the fire department and police department,” said Strabala.
A discussion was made by Strabala to give elected officials city attorney Elizabeth Skinner and city clerk Becky Burgess the same 5% raise as the department heads.
“I understand it will take an ordinance but I would like to make a motion to get the ordinance started,” said Norma.
Pulling out the ordinance she had presented to the city council in a previous meeting, Skinner reminded the council she was told there was no money in the city’s budget to give her a raise.
“I want to do it legal since he said there was no money in the budget,” said Strabala.
“Then I would rather you wait and look at that,” said Skinner as she reminded the council that they had no budget numbers in front of them to reference.
“I don’t want to be the cause of the budget being broken. We don’t have numbers in front of us and I was told by you all that you could not do this so can you or can’t you and do you know,” asked Skinner.
“That’s why I want to look at the numbers,” answered Alderman Ricky Staton.
A special meeting is planned for Tuesday, March 10 at 5:30, according to Staton, to have a working session and look at the budget in detail.
“We need to look at per department,” said Staton who admitted he passed the budget in January without reviewing it.
That budget came before us so fast that we did not have a chance to look over that whole budget,” said Staton. “
Alderman Joe Alexander questioned why the council was approving raises without seeing the numbers first.
“You don’t have figures in front of you to give the fire department or police department nothing and we come in to make it right,” he exclaimed.
According to Alexander, the council had an illegal meeting to discuss giving the city attorney a raise.
“We did sit up in here and say we were going to give her a raise,” said Alexander.
“I wasn’t there,” replied Strabala.
According to Staton, nothing was done in that meeting because an ordinance was needed.
“We had to fix it,” said Alexander.
The ordinance was tabled so the council could review the budget but Alexander still had unanswered questions.
“Who looked at the budget to do what we are doing period,” asked Alexander. “We never approved it so who looked at the numbers, what numbers did they look at to say the whole city can receive 3 percent and 5 percent raises?”
Neither the mayor nor the finance team was in attendance to answer those questions.
“But we haven’t look at no numbers,” said Joe. “We don’t have no numbers in front of us and we are just sitting here approving.”
According to Strabala the mayor and Kim Burgess reviewed to budget and saw it feasible to give raises. “She was the one that was working with the mayor and they made the decision that the city could afford to do this and she is the controller. She is the money lady.”
Alderman Richard Wilson pointed out that some of the departments had raises in the budget. “The one that we approved did have raises,” he said. “I don’t know about all of them.”
According to Staton, Tuesday’s special called meeting will be to revisit the budget and make sure the numbers are in place so the city is not put in a financial strain and raises are distributed properly.
“We have to look at every department across the board,” said Staton. “Originally we wanted to look at the police department and their adjustments and their pay but we also have to look at the overall budget that they were given which also corresponds with every other department’s budget that was given.”
Staton went on to say the responsibility of the budget being correct before it passed was on the city council.
“What did we do? Come in here on January 31 and I was told we had to pass the budget or the city don’t run the next day,” said Ricky. “What am I going to do? I am going to pass the budget, ok. I never saw those numbers. I don’t know if those numbers are where they need to be.”
Staton asked the council if they had seen any of the department head’s proposed budgets.
“No we got what was approved,” answered Strabala.
“What the mayor and Kimberly decided not what the city council decided,” said Staton.
Staton points out revisiting the budget in the special called meeting on Tuesday will allow them to see if the city is spending too much money in one place and not in another department.